I have something to say about inflated college costs, student loans, and state taxes and you’re gonna hear about it.
I have an English degree from the University of Alabama, Class of ’99.
My freshman year in the Fall of ’94, I was a few months away from turning 18. I was a difficult teenager so dorm living with roommates, especially in Tutwiler, seemed out of the question. Mom cosigned for a one bedroom apartment walking distance from campus. Rent was $315/month which was considered expensive at the time, but Mom wanted me to be in a safe area.
Then I had utilities and all that (including cable TV!), so maybe another couple hundred bucks on top of rent. Maintaining an apartment was about $500/month. Groceries, gas, meals out, clothes, school supplies were my only other expenses.
Mom sent me $300/month and Dad sent me $500/month. I lived quite comfortably on that. It was basically extended child support.
My maternal grandfather set up all three of his grandchildren with college savings accounts when we were babies. Unfortunately the investment vehicle was whole life insurance. The same amount invested in any index fund would have grown exponentially in comparison. But, that was $20K for college.
Mom and I went to probate court at the Jefferson County Courthouse downtown to release the funds because I was only 17 and the policy didn’t mature until I was 19 and legally an adult in Alabama. There were no good options to do that. Mom just sent me tuition money in the meantime, it was only about $800 a semester back then in ’94.
I’d walk over to Rose Administration to the bursar’s office and write a personal check from my student AmSouth checking account for $800 for tuition. Over the years, the checks grew a bit. $900, $975, $1050, $1100.
Later on, when I turned 19 and my college fund was available, Mom moved it to Schwab money market and I wrote tuition checks out of that account. When I graduated in ’99, there was still $14K in that account.
I had mono my sophomore year and then was just burned out with everything and my grades plummeted. That’s why I ended up being on the “five year plan.” I withdrew a semester and had academic bankruptcy for the mono semester.
My parents insisted I get a job, any job, and I worked at Bruno’s as a cashier for a few months at minimum wage which was $4.75/hr then. To their credit, that caused a huge attitude adjustment with me and I was ready to get back to the college grind and get this over with. Finally get a degree, any degree. Not graduating was not an option.
I was not a good student, not like high school. I had a very difficult time putting in the work for boring things. Unless it interested me, then I’d engage and write excessively on it. Which is why I ended up majoring in English, as that was the shortest route to finishing and getting this over with.
So that’s why I have a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Alabama. With essentially a gentleman’s C. And then I didn’t realize you were supposed to apply to graduate so I went to a counselor and was like, “I have enough hours for an English degree now” and he said, “Well, you missed the deadline for graduation so it’ll be in August.” That’s why I didn’t walk my graduation, not that I cared to do so anyway, I had already moved to Texas so they mailed me my diploma.
In total for all 5 years, total tuition paid in cash was about $9K. That was about my annual living expenses, too.
Now annual (two semesters) tuition at UA is $11,600. Just tuition, not any other expenses.
My freshman year, I had a “book scholarship” for $150 each semester and that covered all my books even at the expensive UA bookstore. Later on in the English and History departments, it wasn’t uncommon for the professor to make his own bindings of required reading. After all, a lot of the stuff was old enough to be public domain. You could pick that up at the University Print Shop in The Ferg for $2.
Norton Anthologies were about $25-$30 back then. I still have all mine! And myriad novels and poetry collections, those were paperbacks about $4-9. Anyway, books weren’t really that expensive for my major. And then I have a fine literature collection all these years later.
So I was shocked when I searched on “average college textbook costs” and that’s about $1200/year
Facilities were dark, damp, small, crowded, and sometimes dangerous. In the English Department in Morgan Hall, it was not uncommon for plaster to fall off the ceiling onto your desk. Half the toilets were out of order. Carpet was probably from the 70’s. Mold and mildew were rampant.
As an aside, one of my favorite classes was a 300 level American Studies class called “The American Voice” and it was books by Malcolm X, Lakota Woman, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Ralph Ellison. Nowadays that’d be classified as “woke CRT” and banned. But that was back in the late ’90’s at the known liberal institution of *checks notes* The University of Alabama.
I AP’d out of freshman English and history. Most of my classes were taught by full professors, usually tenured. TA’s were pretty rare, mostly just for labs or the lower level math classes I had to take for the core requirements.
Some of my English professors are even famous. For years, I was thrilled when I heard Dr. Roberts on NPR.
Or ran across Dr. Noble’s show on Alabama Public Television
Class sizes were mostly small, maybe 10-20 kids. You really only had big lecture hall classes for things like Chemistry 101 (which I had to drop since I couldn’t understand it) or Geology 101 (aka rocks for jocks).
The quality of the education was very good and I wish I had applied myself better. I just didn’t understand the opportunity back then. But I was still a teenager.
The main “Student Union” where I’d go get lunch on campus was affectionately known as “The Ferg.” The building was 70’s minimalist architecture. When I first started, it was lunch lady cafeteria and a salad bar. Eventually they added a Subway and Taco Bell to make a “food court.”
There wasn’t a mandatory meal plan like they impose in some schools now, that can be like $1K/semester. Mom preloaded “dining dollars” on a swipe card and I’d get a meat and three from the lunch ladies for $2. A hundred dollars on that card lasted a long time.
There was a “Student Rec Center” on the edge of campus with some exercise machines, aerobic classes, squash courts, and a walking/running track. It was grimy and small, but I liked to go over there for step aerobics classes.
Sometimes I’d drive my car if something was far off on campus, so I maintained a campus parking permit for a few semesters. It was about $30 back then. Now it’s $345.
Since I had a full one bedroom apt with a kitchen, I cooked and baked a lot. I’d go to Sam’s Club (family membership), Wal-Mart, and Bruno’s for groceries.
I had a fully paid off car my Mom bought me and my parents paid my insurance. Being a girl, it wasn’t that expensive compared to my brothers.
College was just something you were supposed to do after high school. I was all of 17 years old and didn’t know what else to do with my life, I figured I’d go to UA since Tuscaloosa’s only about an hour away from Birmingham. And UAB was considered “community college” back then. They didn’t even have any residence halls and I didn’t fancy the commute from Vestavia.
I didn’t have any particular aims or goals, just get a degree in something and then I’ll be a grownup, lol.
I don’t regret going to college, it helped me be a better person and expanded my horizons and I met a lot of different folks. It was a bridge from adolescence to somewhat adulthood.
However, if I were the same person looking at my future in 2022, I would say no way I’m going into $100K+ student loan debt for an English degree from the University of Alabama.
I had friends whose parents weren’t in a financial position to be as supportive as mine. They had summer jobs and worked part time during the school year and had roommates. They made rent and bills and paid tuition, often on minimum wage or not much more than that. Some had grants and scholarships, which helped. Sometimes they took out loans, but usually only like $2K a semester.
College is so outrageously expensive now. Who in their right mind would pay almost $50K for in-state tuition for an English degree from UA. And that’s only tuition, not living expenses, books, or fees. Let alone out of state tuition, that’s $31K/year. Out of state tuition was about $5K in the late ’90s.
Books and fees nowadays are horrifying. A lot of schools have mandatory meal plans and cost $1K/semester. Textbooks have online codes so you can’t buy used books. Back in the 90’s, a new $50 textbook was considered outrageously expensive. You could usually find it for $30 used. Mostly the science and math stuff. I usually bought the assigned trade paperbacks of novels for English classes even if I had access to other versions since that was useful to locate page numbers during class discussions. But again, that was usually no more than $8 at the most, usually about $6. Lol, that I’m even mentioning a $2 price difference for an assigned book. So my total book costs were generally about $100 semester with anthologies and trade paperbacks.
I bought a new Ford Focus in 2000 for $14K and if college cost inflation were the same for economy cars, a new Focus would be $100K now.
So all y’all barking about “it’s not fair” for a mere $10K in student loan forgiveness need to STFU. That doesn’t even cover a year’s tuition at UA now.
Some millennial acquaintances still owe extraordinary student loan amounts due to interest. Some of them didn’t finish their degrees, either. Cancel the interest, at the very least.
I’m not that old and the ’90’s aren’t ancient history. College is just so different now with the expense, lifelong loans and debt, and political interference.
Student loans charge so much interest that it compounds and if you borrowed $10K now you owe $30K after minimum payments for a decade. It’s predatory.
Do you know why my tuition and expenses were so low back then? Alabama taxpayers subsidized my in state UA degree. The state legislature had yet to gut higher education funding. So if a Bubba or MeeMaw paid AL state income taxes in the 90’s, they contributed to my education. So anyone bitching about “paying for someone’s useless degree,” if they were a taxpayer in the 90’s in Alabama, they helped pay for my English degree.
I don’t want to see a world where someone like me can’t just casually get an English degree from a state university cause she doesn’t know what else to do with her life as a teenager. And then not end up in life long crippling debt due to a decision she made at 17.
Here’s an Atlantic article about how tuition spiked in the 2000’s at UA.